Legend and Real Life

I just finished writing Paul’s pieces that will go onto his website. As I wrote, I marveled at the many adventures he’s experienced. He’s climbed mountains, traveled, sea kayaked, snow-shoed, hiked, swam, and cold-stone lamped. Though I never exaggerated, listing what he’s done makes him look bigger-than-life, even legendary. When I stick to the salient points of his life and don’t mention the day-to-day living, it feels like I don’t even know him. I mean, there’s no need to mention that he makes terrific applesauce pancakes, that he likes to smoke a pipe while looking at the view, or that he enjoys a good movie. Though this is a great deal of who he is, sitting in a rocking chair, reading Walden, and chatting with me while I cook. It’s the trips and travels and paintings that define him to the outside world and the daily rituals that make up who he is to me. Luckily for me, both are wondrously delighful.

Being an adventurer was what made him appealing to me. He arrived on my doorstep on the tail-end of a year-long trip around the states. Donald, our mutual friend, introduced us at the front door. It was two weeks since I arrived home from a semester in Costa Rica — I was tan and 15 pounds overweight due to the fried platanos and the beans and rice (casados) and beer and pastries I’d been consuming. I’d just gotten out of the shower — no makeup and my hair a limp, wet mess.

I shook hands with him and he did that deferential nod that comes from spending some formative years in the south and a soft-spoken nice to meet you, my name’s Paul. My memory is that as I shook his hand, a little streak of electricity went through me. Though I had the travel bug and was planning on getting overseas again as soon as I could afford the plane ticket, my life changed right there on that doorstep. Soon, I was camping in Central Oregon with the blonde surfer-looking dude with the levis and cowboy boots and the ferret.

I’m sure we all have stories like this. Every person I talk to, every story I read, every bio I write, there’s a fascinating twist of fate or a mysterious, dark secret or a fabulous connection that, if thought-over and fleshed out, could be expanded into a bestseller.

What seems to be the cruel irony, though, is that while we’re living the story, it never feels like legend. It’s just grind and push and struggle and pain and small pleasures and moments connecting to moments that pass so quickly we rarely get the perspective to step away and look and wonder at the impressive ground we’ve covered. It’s not until we have grandchildren who ask us to tell us a story from when we were young that all the romance of our lives is truly felt, by ourselves and by our grandkids. It’s not until then that our lives become legends.

It’s only as readers of our lives that we feel the pounding, haunting glory of poetic justice, of fateful endings, and of living happily ever-after. In the moment, which we are always in, they are just moments, pregnant with implications — but lost so quickly.

It’s one of the marks of God upon us — life we share with all of the animals, but legend belongs to man alone.


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